Internationally, clinical ethics support has yet to be implemented systematically in community health and care services. A large-scale Norwegian project (2007–2015) attempted to increase ethical competence in community services through facilitating the implementation of ethics support activities in 241 Norwegian municipalities. The article describes the ethics project and the ethics activities that ensued.
The article first gives an account of the Norwegian ethics project. Then the results of two online questionnaires are reported, characterizing the scope, activities and organization of the ethics activities in the Norwegian municipalities and the ethical topics addressed.
One hundred and thirty-seven municipal contact persons answered the first survey (55 % response rate), whereas 217 ethics facilitators from 48 municipalities responded to the second (33 % response rate). The Norwegian ethics project is vast in scope, yet has focused on some institutions and professions (e.g., nursing homes, home-based care; nurses, nurses’ aides, unskilled workers) whilst seldom reaching others (e.g., child and adolescent health care; physicians). Patients and next of kin were very seldom involved. Through the ethics project employees discussed many important ethical challenges, in particular related to patient autonomy, competence to consent, and cooperation with next of kin. The “ethics reflection group” was the most common venue for ethics deliberation.
The Norwegian project is the first of its kind and scope, and other countries may learn from the Norwegian experiences. Professionals have discussed central ethical dilemmas, the handling of which arguably makes a difference for patients/users and service quality. The study indicates that large (national) scale implementation of CES structures for the municipal health and care services is complex, yet feasible.
Electronic supplementary material
The online version of this article (doi:10.1186/s12910-016-0158-5) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users.